A motorist’s lot is getting easier by the day. As the car increasingly becomes an extension of the home and office, so an abundance of ‘must have’ safety and convenience features have emerged ‘to make life simpler’. In the first of a new series of just-auto new tech features, Matthew Beecham looks at how trend toward connecting people to their cars, offices and homes has triggered a raft of innovation.

Connecting you to your car–

Just imagine how convenient it would be if you could approach your car, jump in, put your foot on the throttle and drive away without using a key or smart card. As a follow-up to its Keyless-Go system – enabling drivers to unlock their cars by simply carrying a ‘smart’ card — Siemens is on the brink of realising that dream. The electronics giant has developed a fingertip recognition system, which effectively eliminates the need for keys altogether.

“A fingerprint is a unique signature that is only replicated when the person touches something”

“Human touch leaves an identifiable imprint, as it is unmatched by machine-to-machine interfaces,” says Patrick Banas, Siemens Automotive’s Director of Body Electronics. “Computer-generated codes – no matter how elaborately designed – can be replicated. A fingerprint, however, is a unique signature that is only replicated when the person touches something. After the ignition sequence, the automatic transmission will receive a command for gearshift functions that have been tailored to the driving style of the fingerprint-authorised driver. The system even employs a shifting strategy to address outside environmental conditions. The initial commercial application will feature presets, such as adjusting mirror, climate control, radio station selections, steering column tilt and seating positions to settings pre determined by the driver.”

How does it work? Around 65,000 sensor electrodes measure the exact distance between the skin surface and each sensor. A second later, a digitised image of the fingerprint is generated. The device then searches for up to 24 distinct features of the owner’s fingerprint-the minutiae-and stores their position and size. The system then carries out a final check by comparing this image to its data bank. Once verified, the chip gives the signal to start the engine. The silicon chip itself is the size of a penny coin and contains a sensing field, analogue-digital converter, sequencing control, clock generator and parallel interface. To get round any problem of the fingertip not being recognised if it is dirty or wrapped in a plaster, the device learns up to three fingers of the same person. In later stages of development, this system will also play an important role in customising the car to the driver’s requirements.

Still not convinced? Consider this. The men’s 100 metres final at last year’s Olympic games in Sydney was all over in just ten seconds. That’s just how quickly some car thieves can break into most cars. Fingertip recognition technology, however, could put an end to car theft once and for all.

Siemens fingertip sensor

–your office–

Creating a mobile office has become another ‘must have’ feature for the upwardly mobile. A year ago Delphi entered into a strategic partnership with the Swedish telecoms equipment maker, Ericsson, to develop its mobile multimedia product offerings. One aim of the alliance was to develop a “plug-and-play” feature that allows motorists to make quick upgrades to their vehicles’ mobile multimedia products. At the same time Delphi joined forces with Palm to allow motorists to send and retrieve information through their Palm electronic organisers on a hands-free basis. A cradle device fits in a cup holder and plugs into the cigarette lighter. The system, called the Communiport Mobile Productivity Centre, is streamlined to allow customers of the Palm Net service to access news, weather, sports, financial information and the Internet. Interested in buying one? Delphi is now selling its Communiport MPCpro model for $499 via the company’s web site. The Palm computer and Ericsson phone are sold separately.

–and home

If you are one of the 10 million drivers lucky enough to have one of Johnson Controls’ Homelink systems, you’ll already know all about this in-car high-tech gadget. Driving through rain is tiring. But once home, remain seated, flick a switch and watch your drive gates swing open, garage door lift up and home lights switch on simultaneously. The latest versions of HomeLink allow the driver to check tyre pressure information and control vehicle convenience functions such as remote keyless entry.

“Bending light around blind corners is on the horizon, say some major headlamp manufacturers.”

Tomorrow’s cars: Lighting

Bending light around blind corners is on the horizon, say some major headlamp manufacturers. Some of the latest novel advances centre on computer-controlled headlight systems that adapt the beam and its intensity and direction to help drivers see the road better. Such technical wizardry includes programming the beam so that it adapts to speed by moving the headlight reflector to produce a long, narrow beam at high speeds or a wider, dispersed beam at slow speeds.

Among those lighting manufacturers offering such “smart” systems is Germany’s Hella. Hella’s Varilis (variable intelligent light system) uses shields and shutters to adjust the beam, according to the driving situation. Wolfgang Hendrischk, director of Hella’s lighting technology division, told just-auto: “Our Varilis can provide up to four low beam configurations and one high beam from the same light source. Using a small drum, we can generate a town light, a right- and left-hand drive cross-country light, a motorway light and a high beam all using one light source. It’s a very compact design. With the Varilis system, you just need one 70mm lens to shed the light on the road. Although it is dependent on legislation, next year we will have luxury cars fitted with fixed bending light. If everything works out as planned, we will make swiveling bending light in 2003. In 2005, we will have the full-blown Advanced Front Lighting System, The system is developed and tooled with projects already lined-up. We are just waiting for the legislation to come along. Our Varilis is a modular headlamps can accept any of the AFS features in a building block principle, depending on the legislation.”

Each of the following sequence of photographs show a comparison between asymmetric dipped-beam light (top), as has been mandatory in Europe since 1957, and one of Hella’s light distribution patterns that will be possible in future.

Before and after: Hella’s intelligent front lighting of the future (bends)

Before and after: Hella’s intelligent front lighting of the future (side-turnings)

Before and after: Hella’s intelligent front lighting of the future (built-up areas)

Before and after: Hella’s intelligent front lighting of the future (motorways)

Johnson Controls’ massage seat

Auto bytes

  • Telematic mirrors. If your next car is fitted with one of Gentex Corp’s high-tech rear-view mirrors, then you’ll be able to get directions when you’re lost, call for emergency services when in trouble or even diagnose engine problems while on the move. Gentex is collaborating on telematics solutions with Ford. “We already have mirrors with GPS system interfaces, cell phones, microphones, emergency notification systems and the like on 14 vehicle models in North America,” says Ken La Grand, executive vice president of Gentex. “Advances in wireless technology and voice recognition systems will open even more doors as we seek to create the ultimate telematics mirror.”

Gentex rear-view mirror

  • Integrated cooling module. Denso has developed the world’s first integrated cooling module that combines an engine cooling radiator with an air conditioning condenser. Denso claims that combining the two units results in a 40% reduction in overall thickness, releasing more space under the bonnet. It works better, too. Denso says its SF (single fin) cooling module improves cooling performance of both the engine coolant and air conditioner refrigerant by around 10%. The module features in Toyota‘s Prius hybrid car.
  • Comfort for back pain sufferers. According the government research, we’re travelling further by car than we did a decade or so ago. But spending more and more time strapped into a car seat is no fun, especially for those who suffer from back pain. Johnson Controls’ massage seat aims to reduce muscle tension and stress on long journeys. The system uses eight electric motors within the seat to deliver a soothing tingle to the back.

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

Automotive lighting market intelligence set

Automotive b2b – Strategic threats and opportunities in the automotive supply chain